Thursday, January 1, 2009

Give me an inch

Forget all that crap about wisdom and serenity and comparisons to fine wine. There are plenty of downsides to being " a certain age" , and not much to be certain about. Anything can go south at any time - your job, your marriage, your friends, your friends' marriages, your home equity, your investments, your face, the fleshier parts of your anatomy and of course, your health.

I recently had a health scare which was causing me some concern and keeping me awake at night. (A good night's sleep. Another thing one can no longer count on in middle age). The day I was scheduled to go see my doctor, I awoke at 4 am. For me, the only thing to do in these cases is to get up and read, write or get some work done, so I rolled out of bed, slipped on my brand new, forest green Christmas mocassins, and shuffled off to my computer.

I had been typing away for about an hour when I was startled by a sudden, loud, unidentifiable sound. Since the window above my desk is covered by a sheet to keep the glare off my computer screen, I had to go outside to determine the source of the noise. Cautiously, I opened the back door and looked around. In the middle of the patio lay a bird, on his back with his legs up in the air, convulsing like an upturned windup toy. He was a west coast robin, with a fuzzy orange belly and a long, pointed beak. I noticed a crack in the window where he'd crashed into it. Having gleaned too much information about my symptoms from the internet, I had worked myself into an acute neurotic state, the kind where suicidal birds take on a sinister meaning. I couldn't help but fear the little kamikaze was some kind of bad omen regarding my pending doctor's appointment.

When it comes to animal control, my husband and I adhere to traditional sex roles: I don't kill living things and I don't dispose of dead ones. (Besides, it's challenging to do these things while you're screaming and hopping on one foot with your eyes squeezed shut). I waited for my knight in shining armor to get up and grab some coffee and then I led him outside to take care of the robin. But there would be no need for a bird funeral: the little guy turned out to be remarkably hard-headed. We caught him just as he was regaining consciousness. He struggled to his feet, shaking his head a few times as if waking from a bad dream before flying off into the garden.

Later, at the doctor's office, I was led into an examining room by a chatty nurse who had recently moved from Lousiana. In between sharing her disgust at the lack of response to hurricane Katrina and describing the positive effects of Southern humidity on curly hair, she proceeded to weigh me, and then insisted on checking my height. It's OK, I said. I'm 5'4. But the nurse was as thorough as she was friendly and she measured me, something which had not been done since I was in my late teens or early twenties. Which is how I learned, to my utter shock and bewilderment, that I am actually 5'5. Apparently, I grew another inch since the last time my father marked my height on the door frame back in, maybe, 1978?

The nurse left a couple of minutes later, and the doctor came in. She listened to my complaints, wrote a prescription and told me I'd live. This reassuring news seemed almost beside the point, as I was now in the throes of of a full-blown height-entity crisis. My whole life, I've been 5'4. A really big petite. A jumbo shrimp. A woman, according to the anthropology section of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, of exactly average height when you factor in supermodels and malnourished North Koreans.

When I got home, I just had to double check. I made my daughter measure me again. Yes, I am proudly, unimistakably 5'5 and the weather up here is fine. All these years I've been statuesque, and I never even knew it. So to hell with the grey hair. Too bad about the back fat. And gobble be damned. At least you can't say I'm getting shorter with age.

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